With some 900 schemes, community employment is the largest employment programme administered by my Department. It aims to enhance employability and mobility by providing work experience and training opportunities for unemployed persons within their communities. They do this superbly. Community employment also helps long-term unemployed persons to re-enter the active workforce by breaking their long-term experiences of unemployment through a return to work routine.
Deputies on all sides of the House are fully aware of the positive benefits derived from community employment schemes by the individuals, the host companies and communities. Communities benefit from the skills and talents of participants, while participants are provided with the opportunity to improve existing skills, or develop new ones, while performing valuable work in local communities. Many community employment schemes provide vital community services across the country, all of which are well embedded in the communities. I know that we certainly could not do without some of these services in County Meath, but that is true and reflective of all the counties we represent.
I am fully committed to the future of the programme and will continue to support and improve it for the benefit of the people who participate in it and having regard to the valuable contribution it makes to local communities. In that regard, the Government has agreed to my request to establish an interdepartmental group to explore the most appropriate organisational arrangements, including which Departments should host sections of the community employment programme, especially social inclusion schemes. Deputies may be aware that following the review of the community employment scheme in 2015, a decision was taken to adopt a two-strand approach to all community employment placements which were categorised as either a training and activation strand or a social inclusion strand. It is my strong view that local services supported by these social inclusion placements should be safeguarded. The scheme will continue to be subject to continuous improvement and reviewed on a regular basis.
The Department values very highly the local services provided by bodies such as the LES and will continue to depend on local service providers to supplement and complement direct service provision into the future. It is, however, a legal requirement that the services be procured in an open process and that appropriate governance arrangements be entered into. Accordingly, my Department commissioned Indecon to complete an independent, evidence–based evaluation of the effectiveness, efficiency and governance of the local employment service and jobs clubs. The report was published in January and I have read it. It will inform the Department's and my decisions on the future activations and partnerships we require.
I am incredibly committed to the people involved because they are incredibly committed to unemployed persons. They provide valuable services and we will continue to support them.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
It will help to inform both the Department and the LES of how to ensure compliance with legal procurement requirements. My Department and I have been engaging with key stakeholders throughout the process and will, of course, continue to do so. Looking to the future of employment services generally, one of the factors to be taken into account is the reduction in the live register. This creates an opportunity to consider how best to encourage and support other groups into employment such as inactive persons who are not currently seeking work and people with disabilities. I consider that services such as the LES are well positioned to offer such a service. My Department will continue to consult the relevant stakeholders to ensure any future contracted public employment service will give the best possible service to those who wish to return to the labour market.